I remember the very first issue of WIRED magazine. We all thought it was cool that there was a magazine talking about this geeky stuff we were doing. It looked really different from anything else that was being published, and not all that design innovation was useful. There was a lot of hot pink type on lime green backgrounds, text superimposed on text, and other effects that got used a) because everyone was young and had good eyes, and b) because it looked good (sort of) on a computer screen. On paper, it was both attention-getting and completely unreadable.
I’m currently struggling through Tom Peters’ Re-imagine!. It’s got large useful chunks, but it suffers terribly from the same disease. Random pieces of text are in red. Random stuff is in huge type. Ellipses are . . . used to . . . indicate . . . WTF exactly? Capital letters are used to express a kind of emotional spasm, without any seeming underlying logic. It’s a little like a homework assignment written by a hyper bright 10-year-old with advanced ADD.
The typography and layout of the book are a writhing mass of attention-grabbers, with the result that the whole thing is impossible to read. You don’t know where to put your focus. There’s not a square inch to rest your eye. It would make an OK one-page flyer, but as a book it’s brutally exhausting and doesn’t, in the end, get its point across.
If you’re communicating in writing, your best bet is to use words and sentences and paragraphs. Headers let the readers know This is a Pretty Big Idea. Sub-heads let the reader know This is a Subset of the Pretty Big Idea. I know that isn’t as fun as splashing red graphics over the top of your text. I know it isn’t as fun as squiggly lines (that look disturbingly like hairs, I keep trying to brush them out of the book) pointing to call-outs.
I know it’s more fun to write a white-board than a book. But it isn’t more fun to read one.
I may well be a big fuddy-duddy, although I’ll note that I have read at least one blog post (which I wish I cound find again, like a fool I didn’t bookmark it) pointing to the pages of Re-imagine! that one should actually read.
But let’s just say, for the sake of argument, that you might not be as brilliant as Tom Peters. (And I agree that there is some brilliance there.) If that is the case, and if your communication strategy is to wave your arms around and shout “All Of This is important to everyone, gaaaaaah!” accompanied by graphics that shock and awe more than they inform, don’t be too surprised if your effectiveness approximately equals that of a homeless guy.
Edit: Laura pointed out in comments that this blog’s default typeface is pretty darned small. Which is true. Annoyingly, it seems that the only way for me to change this if I use a predefined theme is to upgrade to a more expensive account so I can create a custom CSS sheet. Which I will, but in the mean time, I’m manually bumping up the font a little in each post. I hope this works better for folks!